02 March 2016

Audio Review: Doctor Who - Infernal Devices

Review by Ryan Wigley

Infernal Devices picks up pretty much right where Only The Monstrous left off. Nicholas Briggs' take on the Time War wasn't dissimilar to that of the great World War I and II films, albeit in space. Infernal Devices is a significant step up from that, with a great deal more emphasis on the Time aspect of the Time War. The set presents us with three different stories, by three different writers, each dealing with high concept weapons and situations that wouldn't go amiss being name-dropped by David Tennant's Doctor.

The Time War is at its height, with the desperate and frustrated War Council of Gallifrey - spearheaded by Cardinal Ollistra - looking at new and different ways of ending the war victorious. The Daleks, meanwhile, are in the exact same situation and are also finding ways that will cause total extermination of Gallifrey. As the Time Lords are increasingly losing their humanity, the Daleks look like they're about to recover theirs...

John Dorney kicks this set off with Legion of the Lost. The War Doctor, having just disabled The Annihilator - a weapon of mass destruction that removes a whole timeline from existence, albeit retaining its memory - finds himself on the planet of the Technomancers. The Technomancers horrifically fuse science and magic together as part of a deal with the Time Lords that should secure their victory in the Time War. Shadovar leads the Technomancers and is brilliantly played by David Warner, who appears to relish playing a scenery chewing villain. Every scene between Warner and War Doctor himself, John Hurt, is electric and an utter joy to hear these two legends fight it out.

Dorney doesn't attempt to shy away from presenting the Time Lords as the big bad guys. There's a great deal of moral ambiguity spread throughout the story and the ethical dilemmas presented are something to be congratulated. It suits the Time War down to a tee, so I admire that Dorney is dealing with it, delving into whether or not the Time Lords are indeed any better than the Daleks. At what cost should total victory be achieved and is it worth it if you're getting perilously close to mirroring the enemy? It's all very interesting stuff!

A relatively new writer to Big Finish, Phil Mulryne takes one look at Dorney's Legion of the Lost and goes in the complete opposite direction for A Thing of Guile. After listening to the Time Lords resorting to the most desperate measures, here we are presented with the equally desperate Daleks doing the same. The Time Lords lose some of their humanity in Legion of the Lost, but the Daleks attempt to regain theirs in A Thing of Guile.

Cardinal Ollistra and the War Doctor team up in this story, albeit against the latter's will, and it continues to delve into the complex and layered relationship the two characters have. Long-term friends, Jacqueline Pearce and John Hurt particularly excel in scenes they share, in both Only The Monstrous and Infernal Devices. The two characters find themselves on Asteroid Theta 12; a secret Dalek research base where they pursue the unthinkable in order to emerge victorious. Here is another high concept weapon, The Anima, in which Ollistra is tasked to discover further information on and forces the War Doctor to help investigate.

Without going into too much detail, A Thing of Guile is my favourite story out of the second set and my favourite out of the entire War Doctor range so far. It's bleak, it's gritty and it's another interesting take on Hurt's Doctor. This isn't an incarnation of the Doctor who saves the day and tries to ensure that everybody lives. Sometimes victory for the Doctor is just ensuring that he makes it back to the TARDIS alive, something reminiscent of the early Hartnell era, or even 2015's Sleep No More. There's next to no hope and it's exactly what I'd expect of a War Doctor range.

Matt Fitton absolutely gets it with his War Doctor debut The Neverwhen. The high concept weapon in this story is The Neverwhen Flux. It's horrifying. Those who are in the range of the flux are trapped in a bubble of time that is constantly dealing with evolution and devolution. Both sides of soldiers caught in The Neverwhen Flux are constantly wrestling with changes to their environment and to themselves. Evolution provides them with an advantage in the War, but devolution gives them a major disadvantage. The horrifying thing about the idea is that it's all moot; the combatants aren't permitted to remain dead. Death in one battle is then reversed come the start of the next when your side has either evolved or devolved. It's an eternal Hell.

Naturally, Ollistra uses this as the ultimate opportunity for victory. Equally natural is that the War Doctor is utterly repulsed by it all. He may be a warrior, but there's still a little bit of the old Doctor in him somewhere. That said, there's a brilliant scene in this story where the War Doctor reels off a plan that would be uttered by a genuine soldier. No fuss is made, but it's a subtle sign that this incarnation has indeed been transformed by the Time War.

All in all, Infernal Devices is a top notch and fascinating insight into the high concept affairs of the Time War. It's bold, brutal and downright gritty. The interesting point that is raised throughout the set surrounds the Time Lords. Even if they do win the War, it's ultimately the Daleks who are victorious as they have completely changed the way the Time Lords act, mirroring them with their corruption, lack of mercy and down right single mindedness. It's a compelling look at the moral dilemma of the Time War.

Infernal Devices is a more refreshing and original listen than Only The Monstrous, with Sir John Hurt well in his stride and completely owning every line he utters with complete conviction. He perfectly balances the dark with the weary and is aided with a great supporting cast. John Hurt is my favourite actor, but I never thought he'd become a favourite incarnation of the Doctor - and he's certainly racing up the ranks!

Roll on September's Agents of Chaos, by another three different writers!

PS: Big Finish - if you're reading this - now it's been revealed that Cardinal Ollistra is part of the War Council of Gallifrey, can we get Ken "The General" Bones on board please? This reviewer thinks he's a genuinely complex and layered character, despite the two brief appearances, that I'd love to see square off against the War Doctor. Or perhaps lead into battle...?

Review by Ryan Wigley

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